The Australian government has a biased and narrow view of intercountry adoption. Intercountry adoption has become a market fuelled by lobbyists insisting upon their right to parent, especially when biology fails them. Adoption lobbyists insist there are millions of orphans needing homes and so they ultimately lead the unknowing down the path of blindly believing it’s a win-win situation : let’s match the millions of children who deserve a family to couples who cannot have any through natural means. In the middle there are many unscrupulous baby traffickers who make money by taking advantage of this market driven system.
In the meantime, there are adult intercountry adoptees like me who think critically about what’s going on today and what went on over 40 years ago where it all began.
Stories in the media are rife with feel good images of adoptees who have lost their homeland and families. Adoptees have managed to survive and flourish and see themselves as benefiting but at the same time, confront the reality of their homelands where poverty, lack of education, and opportunity means their what-if-reality might have been a harder life. Why does media continue to promote a black or white image of adoption rather than a critical look at what’s really happening? Is it because lobbyists looking to adopt have wealth, influence, and social standing and hence take priority and have greater access to Government?
Since the Abbott Government came into power, we have seen many media stories portraying the adoption lobby agenda which happens to match the current government’s stance. Tony Abbott is seen personally engaging with AdoptChange founder and at one stage, even had the whole group meet and dine with photos published. By early this year I had enough of sitting by and watching the current government continue on in such a one sided fashion so I wrote to the Prime Minister requesting a meeting with a group of us, adult intercountry adoptees, who are not typically seen in the political arena of adoption.
It took a couple of months until I got a response but in the end, we were finally granted a meeting late in April with the Prime Minister’s Senior Adviser and Minister Morrison’s Adviser (note, we are not high priority enough to be granted a personal meeting with the PM). The meeting was attended by 6 adult adoptees from 4 states of Australia ranging in age from early 20s through to mid 40s, representing 3 of the main sending countries, Vietnam, Korea, and India.
As a group of adult intercountry adoptees, we presented the truths of our experiences to the PM and Morrison’s advisers. Our first point being – we do grow up! We don’t remain children forever! The Australian Government’s concept of intercountry adoption focuses on the needs of the child but fails to address that adoption does not end at the arrival of a child into the arms of a waiting couple. We grow up and we struggle at some stage to find a balance between what we’ve left behind involuntarily (our heritage, our genetic backgrounds, our culture, our language, our communities, our sense of belonging, etc) and what we gain from being raised in a wealthy western country. We continue to experience challenges along the way and hence, it is the responsibility of the current government to conduct ethical programs with sending countries and ensure post adoption support starts before we arrive and continues forever after.
It is normal to expect a good portion of adoptees to want to know at some stage what their birth information is – whether it be from natural curiosity or a medical necessity. We want accurate information – not made up information that leaves us following a paper trail that causes frustration and dead ends because it’s incorrect! The government needs to be ensuring we have appropriate avenues to explore this without having to fend for ourselves and be taken advantage of by unscrupulous individuals who will again, gain from our vulnerable position. Many intercountry adoptees find we have to scrounge around for basic information that is our human right – to know our correct birth name, date, place of birth, and parentage. The government also needs to be ensuring we don’t blindly believe sending country governments claims that we are legitimate orphans. Something needs to be done to further vett this due to corruption in sending countries. The Korean adoptees who presented to the advisers shared about how they found they were never “orphans” – that upon reunion with their families, their stories were not about being abandoned because their parents died but because at the time, their families were struggling with poverty and lack of opportunities. Often as we grow to adulthood and reunion, many adult intercountry adoptees find adoption was the only available means of solving the problem of keeping us alive. Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) our government should be doing more to ensure, without doubt, we are true orphans before agreeing to bring us into this country via intercountry adoption.
We also shared the struggles of a trafficked adoptee – and we know there are at least 9 intercountry adoptees with this experience to date growing up in Australia. What has the Government put in place to support these children as they age? Who looks after their rights and interests to ensure they have an appropriate and impartial avenue to turn to? What happens to them should their adoption break down or their adoptive parents not be willing to help investigate any potential truths to their memories or claims from birth countries until they reach adulthood? Why should a child have to wait that long if they have real memories that could be investigated earlier rather than later? The harsh reality is a child is forced to wait but finds out their biological parent has passed away during this waiting time. Currently the Australian government does little to assist and has created a Trafficking Protocol . The reality of this protocol is its high level and does nothing to ensure state or federal government ownership to take the lead and ensure the well being of the adoptive family, adoptee, and biological family. The end result for the adoptee is the protocol simply highlights the gaps in roles and responsibilities between state and federal government because neither will take appropriate action. Perhaps they should speak to trafficked adult intercountry adoptees if they aren’t sure what “appropriate action” should look like? This is a prime example of how the federal government views its role in adoption as ending at the point where a child enters the country.
Trafficking situations should be thoroughly investigated by an impartial body who understands the key stakeholders involved (i.e. sending and receiving country central authorities, the federal police, lawyers, translators, etc). The current lack of any avenue or impartial investigation ultimately results in further compounding the trauma which the adult adoptee experiences. Our current protocol also offers no legal assistance to the adoptee – yet this is the one area in which expertise is absolutely necessary to ensure the rights of the child are protected and enforced. Australia runs the risk that we learn nothing from our worst case experiences and fails under their obligations as set out by both the UNCRC and The Hague on Intercountry Adoption.
Most notable about the current government’s Adoption Reform is their commitment, and pending launch, to spending approximately A$21m on a 1800-hotline that will provide a National One Stop Shop for couples looking to adopt internationally. This one stop shop is nothing new, just a shop front that will act to refer the couples back to their State/Territory Depts who will educate and ready them as best they can for the journey of intercountry adoption to begin. This one stop shop will not make the process of gaining a child move faster as we only have control of the vetting and readying prospective parents process – Australia has very little ability to increase the numbers of children or the pace at which children are sent to our country – this is totally within the sending country’s control. Worldwide, sending countries are declining in their desire to export their children and are focusing more and more on family preservation and maintaining community ties. We should be encouraging countries to continue in this manner and following guidelines as per the UNCRC to enable the child to remain within their birth country,if we are truly child focused.
Adult intercountry adoptees like myself view the Adoption Reform by Tony Abbott as very one sided. How can the Australian government act for only one group (the demand side) but fail to do anything for the actual children who are here growing up and the children who will arrive as a result of this push to make adoption easier and faster? How biased is this action by federal government yet within their own mandate, as can be seen at the Attorney General’s Department website of Roles & Responsibilities, it is federal government who ultimately hold general responsibility to ensure Australia’s obligations under The Hague Convention of Inter Country Adoption are upheld. Federal government is also responsible to ensure the state central authorities are upholding their roles within the convention and to which they’ve also jointly signed the Commonwealth-State Agreement for the Continued Operation of Australia’s Intercountry Adoption Program.
Under Australian law, the signed Hague Convention in Part 2 Section 6 says, “The functions of the Commonwealth Central Authority are to do, or to coordinate the doing of, anything that is necessary: (a) to enable the performance of Australia’s obligations under the Convention“.
Here are just a few questions based on known experiences of adult intercountry adoptees and I ask – what is the Australian government doing about upholding their obligations to those whom adoption impacts the most, us adoptees, given they are pushing for Adoption Reform?
As per Part 2 Section 6 “Recognising that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding,”
Q: what do we do to help those who aren’t lucky enough to have this? and how would Australia even know if an adoption is working well or not 2, 5, 10, or 20 years into the adoption?
As per Schedule 1
“Convinced of the necessity to take measures to ensure that intercountry adoptions are made in the best interests of the child and with respect for his or her fundamental rights, and to prevent the abduction, the sale of, or traffic in children,”
Q: what is Australia doing to request proof of “necessity” and “last resort measure” as outlined in the UNCRC to have children removed for intercountry adoption? And what are we doing to prevent trafficking – especially after the event?!
“An adoption within the scope of the Convention shall take place only if the competent authorities of the State of origin—”
Q: how does Australia ascertain if the authority is “competent”? How is this measured when we are seeing generations of adult adoptees with forged/fake birth papers?
Article 4 a have established that the child is adoptable; b have determined, after possibilities for placement of the child within the State of origin have been given due consideration, that an intercountry adoption is in the child’s best interests; c have ensured that (1) the persons, institutions and authorities whose consent is necessary for adoption, have been counselled as may be necessary and duly informed of the effects of their consent, in particular whether or not an adoption will result in the termination of the legal relationship between the child and his or her family of origin, (2) such persons, institutions and authorities have given their consent freely, in the required legal form, and expressed or evidenced in writing, (3) the consents have not been induced by payment or compensation of any kind and have not been withdrawn, and (4) the consent of the mother, where required, has been given only after the birth of the child; and d have ensured, having regard to the age and degree of maturity of the child, that (1) he or she has been counselled and duly informed of the effects of the adoption and of his or her consent to the adoption, where such consent is required, (2) consideration has been given to the child’s wishes and opinions, (3) the child’s consent to the adoption, where such consent is required, has been given freely, in the required legal form, and expressed or evidenced in writing, and (4) such consent has not been induced by payment or compensation of any kind.
Q: what is done to PROVE or at least double/triple check outside the sending country that proper consent is obtained without coercion and the biological family correctly understand our western concept of adoption? And what is done when the child is old enough to understand and have a say for themselves? Why isn’t this being taken into account?
“Central Authorities shall take, directly or through public authorities or other bodies duly accredited in their State, all appropriate measures, in particular to— a collect, preserve and exchange information about the situation of the child and the prospective adoptive parents, so far as is necessary to complete the adoption”
Q: what does the Govt do to follow this and make sure the data is accurate and not forged?
c “promote the development of adoption counselling and post-adoption services in their States”
Q: what does the federal government do to ensure an appropriate standard/level of service is available and how does this get measured without asking adult adoptees?
d “provide each other with general evaluation reports about experience with intercountry adoption”;
Q: surely these evaluation reports should include feedback from adult intercountry adoptees to central authorities on how it really has been and what’s going wrong or right and this feedback should be taken seriously and acted upon up through to federal level?
In who’s interests is current media and federal government promoting intercountry adoption reform? I say not in the interests of the “child” who grows up to become adults.
The federal government and media has an inaccurate perception of “the child” portraying a Maslow Hierarchy of Needs type view : that a sense of belonging, self esteem and self actualisation is at the top and only necessary after we’ve met the physiological survival needs through our first world offerings. Mistakenly our need for food and shelter become priority because our countries of origin struggle to provide this due to poverty. The reality is, if you listen to enough adult intercountry adoptees, you will begin to get a sense of the reality that our needs are not a bottom up ladder we climb in order of priority – these needs cannot be segmented, divided and prioritised. These needs must be seen as a whole whereby our need to remain with our community and heritage, being loved by them, is as important as our need for food and shelter or our ability to be loved by strangers.
Most importantly, our need to reach self actualisation comes from having adequate post adoption support in place from the beginning to cope with the separation from our beginnings. If Tony Abbott was serious about intercountry adoption and serving the interests of the child, we should be measuring outcomes and ensuring we have everything in place to best support what should be the last place option to give a child a good home/family in Australia.
The Australian government does very little to seek input into adoption reform policy from the realities of adult intercountry adoptees living here. This year, I have actively contacted on numerous occasions the Liberal, Labour and Green Parties. To date, we have only met with one of the PMs Senior Adviser and Minister Morrison’s adviser and time will tell whether they in fact took any of what we said seriously. Wouldn’t it be a change to see some commitment to the actual “best interests of the child” if a portion of, or a majority of, the $21m for the 1800 hotline was to be spent towards seriously upgrading the national post adoption support services that are hugely lacking for adult intercountry adoptees in scope, reach, and affordability.
To be serious, the Australian government needs to be creating diplomatic ties into each sending country to help facilitate adoptees returning to find biological family and community. The government should also be establishing long term central database of the children imported to Australia with as much of their accurate origins information as possible, so that in future years, we shall be able to have access to our basic information without it being in its altered form. This database should also be tracking and maintaining long term outcome information so we can actually evaluate as per the Hague Convention, whether the interests of the child are obtained. The Govt should also be advocating for those sending countries to ensure the biological parents have actually given educated and informed consent. How then can we consciously advocate for intercountry adoption and adoption reform if we have done nothing to ensure all measures were taken to help keep a child within its country, community, and culture?
In who’s interests is the current adoption reform? From an adult intercountry adoptee perspective, I say it is in the interests of couples wanting to adopt a baby. If we are serious about advocating for the best interests of the child, we would be following our ratified UNCRC more fully. There is a difference between being a true child advocate versus being an adoption advocate. True child advocates do all we can to empower communities and families to support their children and help them remain together eg. micro credit loans to help impoverished families find an income, community homes where orphans can be raised within a family environment with other children who are like themselves with parents from their own culture and race, etc. True child advocates focus on finding solutions for the child ahead of promoting adoption.
If we truly think critically about adoption and it’s long lasting impact forced upon our abandoned/given up beginnings, we would be fully aware of the additional impact that legally severing a child’s biological information in the form of creating new and false birth certificates has long term. Giving us falsified birth documents leaves no trail to trace our biological heritage if we desire. If adoption didn’t eradicate our original birth certificate and replace it with a new one listing our adoptive parents as our as-if-born-to-parents, it would be more suitable as a long term solution for children that truly aspired to being in the best interests of the child. We are not an object to be owned or purchased and creating falsified birth documents creates this reality for waiting couples.
Adoptees, us children who grow up, are what adoption is all about and we should be consulted at every level of policy development by governments in a real, not token, fashion.
Many in adoption circles and the wider public incorrectly assume if an orphaned and relinquished child could be adopted via intercountry adoption into a family of same race – the issues of racial identity, feelings of belonging, and cultural understandings wouldn’t be as difficult to deal with growing up.
I recently interviewed Prema, an intercountry adoptee, adopted into a same race family, who has experienced just as many difficulties as those of us, like myself, adopted into an adoptive family of differing racial background. This isn’t the first time I’ve listened to an adoptee expressing this. I guess it’s similar to the experience domestic adoptees have in-country, adopted into same race families, where some of them have expressed to me that at least for us intercountry adoptees of differing race to our adoptive families! “People can’t help but notice” the difference whereas for those in same race families, its harder for those complexities to be visible and therefore, harder for adoptees to receive much needed validation of their experiences.
For any same race adoptee, strangers don’t have the confronting skin and physical appearances to make them think about and ask questions – welcomed or not.
Here is Prema’s story so she can tell you for herself, that intercountry adoption is fraught with just as many complexities when adopted into an adoptive family of the same race.
Adoption is a kaleidoscope of experiences – we must honour and validate all of these stories and experiences to gain a deeper understanding of the impacts to those it affects.
Today we had an online panel with 6 intercountry adoptees representing the sending countries of Hong Kong, Vietnam, Korea, Bangladesh, & Sri Lanka. It was awesome to hear the variety of experiences and thoughts.
To view the panel click on the link below, keep in mind the first 5mins we experienced network issues but from then onwards, the video is clear and understandable. Well done to our fellow inter-country adoptees for being brave and speaking out!
Huge thank you to Pascal Huynh who has created, directed and facilitated these panels.
Click here for a transcript of my section on Why Post Adoption Support is Important and here for all the Online Adoption Panel Series relevant to intercountry Adoption.
I was writing to an adoptive mum about how we adoptees express anger and it reminded me of how frightened people are, in general, of that “adoptee anger”. In the aim of creating greater understanding of this misunderstood and feared emotion, I thought I’d write about why anger is a valid component in an adoptee’s journey and how people can support an adoptee in the midst of the anger. I don’t speak for all adoptees but share from my own experience.
I don’t recall being aware of my anger being related to my abandonment until I reached my mid 20s. I do recall feeling angry as a teenager but at the time my anger felt like a result of feeling confused about my place in the world, feeling like I didn’t fit in, that people teased me about my looks, and at being treated differently in my adoptive family. I know if anyone had approached me during those teenage years and talked about adoption or abandonment I would have brushed it aside saying it had nothing to do with how I was feeling. I was a teenager who had no idea of the issues that were underlying my feelings. My adoptive family didn’t seek to look for issues other than normal teenage issues – they were told that love should be enough – an era where adoption and abandonment was just not understood.
I was the teenage adoptee who never rebelled overtly. Personality? I’d say it was my fear of rejection that created my drive to “fit in” and my desire for “acceptance” that drove me to succeed at school academically. My emotional outlet was music. I played the piano all the time and I recall my adoptive sister demanding I stop thumping the piano so loudly and angrily. Looking back I realise now it was my only outlet and sign of deep seated anger and primary to that, sadness. I certainly felt like I had no-one who talked to me about those feelings, to initiate those conversations, and perhaps I was so shut off from trusting anyone instinctively that I couldn’t see them even if they were in front of me. I grew up with other children at school and church who were also adopted domestically, but I don’t recall any conversations about “adopted” children except to overhear that they were causing their parents a lot of trouble.
As an adult adoptee, I I personally know quite a few intercountry adoptees who grew up rebelling and getting into drugs, alcohol, sex. They’re all addictions to a degree that help to bury our feelings because they are so overwhelming. I can totally understand why we turn to these comforts and what is driving them. For adoptees, it’s our deep seated feelings of hurt at being abandoned. The persistent questions in our psyche of why were we given up? People are so blinded by the fairytale myths of adoption of “forever family” and “love is enough” they don’t see the signs so obvious to an adoptee like me. You may treat us like forever family and love is enough but WE don’t feel like that. Not for a long time. For kids like me, who appeared well behaved, our struggles go undetected – only to show up later in early adulthood as deep seated depression and suicidal attempts or other covert symptoms. Perhaps parents should consider themselves lucky if they have a child who is acting out – at least the adopted child is trying to tell you there is something they are struggling with – it’s their call for help. As for adoptees like me on the other hand, my parents had no idea of the depth of my struggles and for some unknown reason I’m still alive to write about it. For those adoptees who manage to cut off those feelings permanently by ending it all, I say it’s a terrible reflection on our society in the ways we perpetuate adoption myths, failing to support and offer the help and acceptance they are seeking before it’s too late! My parents certainly never realised I had deep seated underlying issues that might have benefitted from some guided assistance. I looked on the exterior as the model child, always conforming, performing highly at school, despite being caught for shop lifting in my early teens.
The reality is anger is a normal emotional response to our unordinary beginnings of loss, detachment, disconnection, severing of our ties to mother who carried us, loss of our genetic heritage, feelings of not belonging in our adopted land and environment, feelings of displacement, confusion as to where exactly do we fit in and why it is so hard to wrestle with all these feelings that no-one else seems to have, let alone relate to. Unless the people surrounding us and closest to us understand this anger and have an interest in “hearing” what this anger is about, I think as adoptees we continue to escalate in our behaviours of expressing anger in poor and dysfunctional ways which sabotage further our abilities to develop relationships that otherwise might be supportive.
I came to the realisation in therapy one day that in fact harming myself was my anger turned inward. Adoptees who act out their anger are displaying it out, those of us who are perfectionists and trying to conform will turn it inwards if there is no appropriate avenue to express it. So how can we best help an adoptee with anger? First and most importantly we need someone to listen to us and accept we have a real valid reason for feeling anger. This means not being afraid to hear the adoptee’s anger. Don’t turn the issue away from the adoptee and make it about you. I know many people who are afraid of hearing/seeing/being on what they perceive is the receiving end of anger – if so, I encourage you to read The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner. In blocking the adoptee’s innate need to express that anger, you will also be blocking their need to express their innate sadness of loss and disconnection.
Second, don’t react to the anger expressed in a negative way. If you do, this gives the impression that our anger is wrong. No, what is wrong is not the emotion and sound reasons for it, but the way in which we turn that anger energy onto others or ourselves. What we need when we express anger is someone to validate and confirm that our anger is ok and that underlying it is our pain and sadness at being abandoned.
Third, once you allow the anger to exist, you might be surprised to see it turn into tears of raw sadness, hurt, and pain. This is when we need a nice warm accepting cuddle that offers comfort and demonstrates you are sharing our pain with us.
As adoptees, if we constantly receive the message overtly or covertly that our anger is not ok, you are reflecting back to us that it is not ok to be who we are. We are a result of a terrible beginning so naturally our psyche has to resolve this and find a way to heal. If you block the anger, the adoptee will never get to the other end of the spectrum of healing because anger is our secondary emotion to sadness. If we are too afraid to express our sadness, we express it as anger. If you can’t hear our anger, you won’t be able to hear our sadness. If we never get to express our sadness and pain, we never get to resolve our beginnings.
The message I’m trying to convey is please don’t be scared of our anger or try to inhibit it from being expressed. Once our anger gets heard, we won’t be as explosive or reactive. It is like uncorking a bottle of wine, if you let the anger gas out, the wine goes nice and mellows. Now I’m not saying we only have to let our anger out once, no, sometimes we need multiple times of expressing this anger and being “heard” and listened to. In my experience, the power of healing for me came from being able to tell my story fifty different ways to fifty different audiences. It was the validation I needed. Having people come up to me and empathise and give that understanding I’d been seeking all along. After a while of getting people’s validation, I learnt that my feelings were ok and not to run from them. I learnt it was good to listen to my anger within but the trick was to find an appropriate method to channel the energy and turn it into something useful for ourselves. For me, it was to create a support network for other adoptees who were struggling like I did. For others, it could be an artistic outlet, music, writing, anything that allows us to express the anger and sadness in a safe and healthy way.
The above is written specific to adoptee anger based only upon the initial abandonment wound. If an adoptee gets further hurt, abuse, racism on top of their abandonment, then of course the anger gets compounded by these extra causal factors. I’m also not advocating for violence which is anger acted out towards others or justifying an adoptee purposively hurting others because of their “anger”. I’m simply writing about a much misunderstood topic specific for intercountry adoption and hoping to share some insight as to why we display anger, where it’s coming from, and how you might help us resolve it in a healthy way.
My wish is to live in a world where an adoptee’s anger will be heard for what it is i.e. instead of labelling us and pushing us away because people are afraid of the force in the emotion, they would instead embrace us and validate that we have every reason to feel sad and angry. If our anger is embraced, you will enable us to heal ourselves by being true to our feelings and to start to truly connect to you and share our deepest needs by embracing who we are at our deepest core.
Someone recently asked if I could provide a short statement on these questions:
What does it mean to be adopted?
How does it feel?
And what is it like not knowing who your mother (parents) is?
I struggled to contain my answer in one paragraph but did … and then I decided I’d share the long version because at its essence, this is what we adoptees struggle with and wish others could understand better.
For me, being adopted has meant that I was once abandoned for whatever reason. Mine was in the context of the Vietnam War so I can almost cognitively accept there was a valid reason – perhaps my mother died in the war during childbirth or perhaps my whole family got blown up in a bomb. I still vividly remember watching Heaven and Earth – a film about a Vietnamese woman in the Vietnam War and I had a strong empathy for the atrocities many Vietnamese women went through, especially the ones who’s babies were cut out of their mothers stomachs and the women raped by soldiers. My heart ached for whether that might have been my mother’s situation and I overcame my sadness of why I might have been given up with the reality that – perhaps my mother went through more trauma and loss than I did.
The possibilities of why I was given up are endless and almost comforting to know she probably didn’t give me up because of being pregnant out of wedlock as in Korea or because of a 1-child-policy as in China. Perhaps it was poverty as is the case in many other sending countries like Ethiopia. But at the end of the day, I can rationally see children do get abandoned and some are legitimate orphans … and in a war torn situation like mine, domestic adoption, foster care or other alternatives were just not possible at the time due to everything being in chaos with no stable government to ensure the citizens of that country get looked after.
I do believe when we are old enough to understand the political and economic situations surrounding our adoptions – it impacts how we adoptees view intercountry adoption. For me, I’ve never seen myself as against all forms of adoption because of my situation where in a war torn country there’s almost a legitimate reason for why intercountry adoption was needed. I do question aspects of the Operation Babylift concept which occurred after I was adopted – in particular the speed at which it happened, the lack of clarification of the children who were sent abroad as to their real status, how they were selected, and the politics involved – I dare say if Operation Babylift were done today it would be seen as mass Child Trafficking and receive huge criticism by Child’s Rights activists around the world! Indeed Operation Babylift was controversial in an era were intercountry adoption was in its infancy.
For the Korean adoptees today from a Western mindset, seeing generations of babies being sent abroad because of stigma against single unwed women, one can understand why as a Korean adoptee you would become fiercely critical of adoption! The same will apply for the generations of Chinese adoptees being sent abroad to solve their country’s population problem via intercountry adoption. Adult adoptees from these sending countries will inevitably grow up to ask the question – what did the Government do to assist these babies to be kept in their birth country rather than being conveniently shipped off via intercountry adoption where millions of dollars are saved from having to find a solution in-house? What about the Rights of The Child? In countries like Guatemala, Cambodia, and Ethiopia families have been ripped apart from the corruption and greed of baby sellers under the guise of intercountry adoption – of course these adopted children will grow up to have an opinion of what happened on a massive scale and question why the governments of their own birth country and receiving country did little, early enough, to stop more adoptions when there were plenty of indicators that children were being adopted out without any proper oversight or ensuring they were legitimate orphans.
So the question of what does it mean to be adopted starts with the abandonment concept but then depending on which sending country we come from, gets layered with other social, political and economic issues about why our birth countries allow us to be adopted, layered yet again with how our adoption into another family and culture really turns out, and in the minority of cases, layered again if we can be reunited. Complications arise naturally from the actual adoption in whether we are lucky enough to be placed in an appropriate family with support, empathy and help to navigate the complexities of our life at different stages of development – e.g. were we raised in a multicultural setting to allow us to assimilate and not feel like racially isolated; was adoption openly talked about; was it acceptable to express our feelings of grief and not knowing about our first families; were we allowed to be ourselves or were we subconsciously having to live the life our adoptive parents wanted and meeting their subconscious needs; were we supported in returning to our country of origin and wanting to search for information?
Some of us are not so lucky in obtaining the “awesome adoptive parent” lottery ticket and so our being adopted takes centre stage in trying to understand why we deserved mistreatment and hurt (intentional or not) from our adoptive families and only serves to add to our vulnerabilities and feelings of helplessness from being abandoned. For those of us who have fantastic adoptive families, I dare say we can move quicker through the minefield of trying to understand what being adopted means because we received the love and nurturing that is necessary to flourish and develop healthy self esteem and racial identity – but it’s still not an easy journey even with the best of parents.
So essentially how does it feel to be adopted? The best analogy I could come up with as an adult adoptee now in my 40s, is it’s like peeling away layers of an onion.
You move thru’ life wonderfully for a while and then hit a new layer that stings the eyes and heart.
It takes time to absorb the meaning of one’s abandonment and loss at each new layer and level, and our identity evolves slowly over time.
As time progresses, we realise what these layers are and accept them instead of wanting to run away and escape them. Once we get to understand this, we are able to move through these layers with less disruption to the whole of our lives. For me, adoption has become less of an issue the older I get because I’ve slowly been able to integrate all these facets and complications into my sense of who I am and why I am.
It’s such a complicated thing to try and explain what it is like to not ever know one’s first mother and father. There’s the not knowing in terms of facts – their names, histories, race, and language. Then there’s the gut feelings of sadness and grief and the why’s of “why we aren’t with them?” Then there’s the “well – who am I then” without being able to answer any factual questions.
When I was younger and before I learnt to stop running from the feelings of grief and loss, I would long for my mother. I recall looking into the starry sky at night and wonder if my mother ever thought of me or missed me as much as I did her. I would dream of her leaving me on a dusty road and me crying out, “wait!” I realise now I was full of grief in my years under 10.
I missed a mother I couldn’t put a face to, but one to whom I felt innately severed from.
There is no doubt in my mind and after reading The Primal Woundand watching documentaries likeIn Utero, that it is true – we do bond in utero with our mothers and we feel disconnected if we never hear her voice or feel her around us again. I couldn’t really come to allow myself to trust my new mother (my adoptive mum) and I see now as an adult how hard this must have been for her. In my child mind, if mother can disappear than I’d better learn to be self reliant and not trust any other mother. I know my adoptive mum tried to show me she loved me but it’s just I couldn’t psychologically let her in. When did it change? I think it wasn’t until in my mid 20s when I did some therapy with an amazing woman (yes, I knew I had to find a female therapist to assist me in my unhealed “mother” work)! I finally learnt to trust a woman and allow my buried grief to surface – to share that very real and deep pain of being separated from one’s mother – with another “mother figure”. It was really only then I could totally embrace my adoptive mother, allow myself to connect and share who I was without being afraid I’d lose myself or somehow be disloyal to my first mother, and understand the three of us were connected.
The not knowing is just my reality. I haven’t known any different. Its like everyone else gets given a cup that’s full of water but my cup is empty and I need to have a drink. Its a basic biological fundamental that our bodies need water! But how do I fill the empty cup and even if I figure it out, will it be enough to satiate the thirst? Normally water quenches the thirst just like having knowledge of our parents and our family heritage gives us the basis/starting point for our identity.
For adoptees like myself who have no facts to go by, the not knowing is like starting to write a book or film without doing any research to ascertain the history in order to create the setting/scene. It just begins with us and it can feel like we are adrift in a huge ocean. There is nothing to shelter against and no other life lines we can connect to to stop us drifting and getting washed around. I had many moments during my life where I felt like I might get toppled over and disappear forever beneath the huge waves. I honestly don’t know what I hung onto to survive – maybe sheer will power, maybe some resoluteness within me to find the answers and make sense of it all. Maybe it’s what still drives me today – to find meaning to my solitary existence. But the reality today is, I realise I’m not alone at all. There are many of us, thousands, sitting alone on our ocean amongst the waves … by connecting each individual together with the bigger picture, it helps make collective sense to our meaning and purpose and what we can achieve.
In today’s climate many politicians, organisations, and activists are trying to promote adoption as a solution to many of the western country’s complex social, economic and race problems. When they do this, it is often observed these same people and organisations use phrases to promote their cause stating “it is in the child’s interest” yet how often do they actually include and ask us for our input.
Since the 1970s there have been thousands of Vietnamese, Korean, South American, Chinese, African and other country’s orphans sent to western nations via intercountry adoption and we have now grown up and become professionals in our own rights. We are old enough to have thought deeply about how our experiences of adoption have impacted us and those around us. We are mature enough to understand the political and economic drivers behind the decision that led us to be sent abroad, away from our mother culture, language and people. Our experiences can offer the ray of insight into the conversations as to whether this is in fact a good solution or not. Yet too often, our voices are overlooked, ignored conveniently and even discouraged.
Our voices need to be heard and included otherwise there is no point bandying around the phrase “in the interests of the child” if you are not going to recognise that as children we grow up and become old enough to participate in the same conversations that impacted our whole lives! We want to have a say and we want to influence how intercountry adoption occurs today. It should not be happening without including those same children who have lived the experience and know innately “how” it impacts us and what it means.